• The Star Staff

Harry will attend Philip’s funeral, raising hope Royal rift will heal

By Benjamin Mueller

Buckingham Palace said Saturday that Prince Harry would be returning to Britain for Prince Philip’s funeral next weekend, setting in motion fevered speculation about whether the reunion would mend fences in the royal family or sow deeper discord.

The visit, Harry’s first since stepping down as a senior royal last year, will force a meeting with his brother, Prince William, and father, Prince Charles, who Harry said in an explosive interview last month were trapped in an unhappy palace life. But Harry will travel without his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who palace officials said would remain at the couple’s California home on doctor’s orders because she is in the latter stages of pregnancy.

For weeks, while the world awaited Oprah Winfrey’s interview last month with Harry and Meghan, the eyes of many Britons were fixed on the health of Philip, Harry’s grandfather, who had been hospitalized with a heart condition.

Newspapers pictured Prince Charles in February leaving the bedside of Philip, his father — the son’s eyes bloodshot as he was driven away. Harry and Meghan were castigated for comments about leaving their royal roles that detractors saw as ill-mannered in light of Philip’s illness. “Have They No Respect?” the Daily Mail screamed.

That period of national concern over Philip’s health lent the royal family sympathy during an unusual dust-up within the institution, one that pitted brother against brother as Harry, in the interview with Winfrey, accused his family of racism and emotional abandonment.

With that conflict still raging, Philip’s death Friday at age 99 opened a new and uncertain chapter in the turbulent life of the House of Windsor. Among the first acts of the post-Philip era was the announcement that Harry would attend his grandfather’s funeral, scheduled for April 17, a slimmed-down ceremony that palace officials said would be limited to 30 people.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain will not be among them: Wishing to avoid taking a family member’s seat, Johnson will not attend, his office said Saturday.

No question was more on the minds of royal watchers than whether Harry would make peace with William after a monthslong feud.

“Harry will come home, and a meeting between the brothers and perhaps, with luck, a reconciliation over their dead grandfather could be a possibility,” said Penny Junor, a royal historian.

Or not.

“It’s going to go one way or the other,” Junor said. “There’s a sort of war going on within the family, and being played out in public. It’s been everything the family doesn’t want.”

The heating up of those tensions during Philip’s hospitalization created an awkward split screen, which defenders of Buckingham Palace used to attack Harry and Meghan for doing anything that could detract attention from the patriarch’s health.

In her interview, Meghan referred to Philip’s illness after Winfrey had asked about regrets. She said she had awaked that very morning to a note saying that Philip had been hospitalized.

Nevertheless, she and Harry offered a painful account of their life within “the Firm,” the family institution that Philip spent much of his life trying to preserve.

They said members of the family had expressed concern about how dark the skin of the couple’s then-unborn child, Archie, would be. Meghan said her efforts to seek mental health treatment had been rebuffed by palace officials, who worried about potential damage to the monarchy.

The comments reverberated through Britain, touching off frank conversations about racism and the country’s colonial legacy. Philip’s own history of bigoted remarks was often cited as an example of anachronistic attitudes that were said to prevail within the family.

So concerned was Harry about how the interview would affect Philip and Queen Elizabeth II that he got in touch with Winfrey shortly after it aired.

“He wanted to make sure I knew, and if I had an opportunity to share it, that it was not his grandmother or grandfather that were part of those conversations,” she told CBS News, referring to the comments about Archie’s skin color.

Befitting Philip’s preference for avoiding undue fuss, as well as COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, he will not lie in state, a ceremony at which the public would have been allowed to view his coffin. The 30-person limit at his funeral, at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, was in keeping with government restrictions, forcing the paring back of a guest list that would normally have run to several hundred people.

Palace officials said Saturday that his coffin would be carried through the castle grounds in a Land Rover. Plans for the televised ceremony, approved by Philip several years ago, had been scaled down because of the pandemic, they said.

The procession will be joined by members of the royal family, along with military personnel.

Travelers to England face mandatory self-isolation periods, although people can shorten them with private coronavirus testing. Harry’s representatives said that he would follow the protocols.

Few elements of the fallout between Harry and the rest of his family have pained Britons as much as his strained relationship with William, with whom he was once said to have a very close bond.

“If there is a coming together at the funeral, and the boys, the brothers, can speak to one another and forgive and forget, then I think there’s some hope that Philip’s death may bring about an end to something that might otherwise have gone on for decades,” said Junor, the historian, who wrote “The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor.”

“But that hasn’t happened yet, and it may not happen,” she said. “I certainly hope it does.”